Basics for Children: Fun (and Fundamentals) in the Kitchen

A quick plug: If you enjoy “What’s Cookin’ @ Special Collections?!” and would like to know more about Special Collections at Virginia Tech, we launched a new blog last month, “In Special Collections @Virginia Tech.” We’ll be sharing collections, books, and manuscripts from all of our collecting areas, as well as news, events, new acquisitions and newly processed manuscripts, projects, and more!  You’ll hear from all of our archivists (including archivist/blogger/foodie Kira, writing about something other than food and drinks) on a variety of topics. And now, back to your regularly scheduled food history….


This week, we’re back to the Ann Hertzler Children’s Cookbook and Nutrition Literature Collection with Fun With Cooking from 1947. As the subtitle (Easy Recipes for Beginners) suggests, it’s about learning some basic recipes and techniques, and it’s very clearly aimed at girls.

From the introduction:

This cook book is for beginners. The recipes are interesting yet not difficult, and each step is carefully explained. The recipes are for things youngsters like to eat, so that the young cook can enjoy the results of her own work.

A girl who makes the things in this book, following carefully all instructions, gains enough experience to go on to more complicated dishes.

The recipes are prefaced by helpful hints and techniques like washing your hands well, reading a recipe before starting, and how to level measuring cups. The girl from the cover appears as a guide throughout the book, demonstrating steps from recipes (although in a few pictures, she looks less than pleased).

While the recipes may be none-too-exciting (the Tuna Casserole looks a little frightening and there is a reason the picture of the hamburgers is absent from this post), the concept is a good, common one. Learning the basics of preparing different types of foods–biscuits, cookies, cupcakes, vegetables, eggs, cooked fruits, and and even oddly-shaped salads–is a great place to start. One can create a LOT of variety from a solid foundation. Yet, it is also important to note that the author specifically included recipes for things children would want to eat and therefore be more likely to want to cook. Steaming Brussels sprouts might be a useful skill, but it could be a tough sell to a ten year old kitchen helper (and even some of us grown ups!).

Side note: Oddly-shaped salads, with or without the aid of gelatin, are not new to us on the blog. They were common courses in dinners beginning in the 1940s and through the next few decades. It’s hardly surprising that this book introduces the concept via the “Candlestick Salad” (half a banana upright in a pineapple right, with an almond “flame” and a “Mickey Mouse Salad” that should appeal to kids (but looks remarkably unlike the familiar character). Still, these basic versions of shaped salads do encourage kids to eat some healthy fruits and veggies.

Mae Blacker Freeman co-authored a whole series of “Fun with” books with her husband, Ira Freeman, on topics from dance to chemistry.  Outside of the series, she wrote other books for children on an equally wide range of subjects–Albert Einstein, gravity, using cameras, and history, to name a few. Many were even translated into German! And that can serve as a good reminder for us–culinary history isn’t “just” culinary history. It exists in a larger context, whether that means within the whole body of an author’s works or the part that food & drinks play in the social history of people. If Fun with Chemistry, for example, can eclipse language barriers, think about the barriers a good recipe can transcend…

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